This page is a living document based on a talk I gave at the 2018 Clockwork Alchemy con entitled “On-Line Research for Steampunk Novels”. The list should be helpful for writers of historical fiction and fictional history as we all want to get the details right–except when we don’t. Because my steampunk novels revolve around Victorian Britain, this list is starting off biased in that direction–but there are plenty of other ways to write steampunk.
Have a resource that has been invaluable to your research? I’d love to include it! Have a favorite on-line resource that I missed? Leave it in the comments and I’ll add it.
Wikipedia – Wikipedia is a immensely valuable resource, but it should be where your research starts, not ends. Great source for general information, but should not be your sole source, as others sources may be deeper and more accurate. However, it does have some very comprehensive collections (e.g., the history of every London Underground Station, detailed pages on historic firearms, etc.)
Google Books Google has digitized libraries full of books. Those that are in the public domain are available in full; others are available in part. This is a great way to find primary sources!
Internet Archive – Same idea.
Period Travel Guides, City Guides, and Gazetteers are a great source of information about a city or country you are researching. Think about it–guidebooks are written for people unfamiliar with a city or country. As a writer, you’re in the same position! Vintage guidebooks can often be found on Google Books.
General Victorian Info
Dictionary of Victorian London – From author and lover of the Victorian Age, Lee Jackson. “Dictionary” really means “Encyclopedia” and is very comprehensive and reprints lots of primary sources.
The Victorian Web Great source of all things Victorian
The Steampunk Explorer New Steampunk website with a great “Resources” section.
ngrams Graphs of usage of words over time. Useful to check if a certain word would have been widely used at a given point in history. (US and British English are analyzed separately from each other.)
Victorian Slang Digitized version of “Passing English of the Victorian Era”, published (1909). Not quite a primary source, but close. Most other sites listing Victorian Slang are, at best, clickbait.
Baby Name Wizard Graphs of popularity of names over the decades.
Old Maps Online. Central search engine for historical maps at many different institutions worldwide, includes the David Rumsey Map Collection.
Library of Scotland Maps Collection UK Historic Maps-digitized, zoomable.
Sears Catalog (>1897) Search in Google books Great resource to see what things cost in the US and what goods were commonly available to the middle class (1 oz laudanum for $1.10!)
What things cost in the past (US) , Morris (NJ) County Library
The UK version of the above, from the Victorian Web economics section.
Predecimalization UK currency How to understand all those farthings and shillings and half-crowns and guineas.
Godey’s Lady’s Book High-end US fashion magazine. Free subscription needed and limited downloads per month. (You can also find lots of pictures by searching for “Godey’s” and the year.) To see what normal people wore, the Sears catalog is a good source as well.
Two Nerdy History Girls lots of blog posts about fashion from the 1700s through Victorian times.
Mens’ fashion–Mimi Matthews blog
Search Google Books for “The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness”, by Florence Hartley, 1872 (American) “The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness”, by “Cecil” Hartley, 1860 (who way really Florence in disguise).
Victorian Science and Technology
Airships.net Lots of info about German and American Airships
Airships online – Airship Heritage Trust, mostly British airships.
Internet Move Firearms Database (Wikipedia is pretty good too).
Internet Archive Book Image – Images culled from digitized books, etc. Over 2.6 million images from 1500 to 1922. on flickr